Being too questioning about other people's motives could be seriously damaging for your success at work, a group of researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany has found.
A study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that by comparing cynicism with average income among people from a range of countries, people with low levels of cynicism – optimistic types, if you will – earned almost £200 a month more than their cynical counterparts.
And it's not just their careers cynics are harming – it's been proven in the past that cynicism creates tension in relationships and lowers health.
"While previous research has associated cynicism with detrimental outcomes across a wide range of spheres of life, including physical health, psychological well-being and marital adjustment, the present research has established an association between cynicism and individual economic success," said Olga Stavrova, the study's lead author.
Cynical people might think they're more discerning and therefore more likely to make the right decisions, but this isn't the case – because they are less likely to trust others, they often forego opportunities to work with others, which ultimately undermines economic success.
“Employees who believe others to be exploitative and dishonest are likely to avoid collaborative projects and to forego the related opportunities," said Stavrova.
Similarly, cynical individuals might be likely to over-invest resources on protecting themselves from potential deceit, "covering their backs" at the cost of focusing on their jobs.
Some cynics are more equal than others
Being cynical has a worse effect on career progression in certain countries, namely in countries with higher levels of altruistic behaviour, lower homicide rates and lower levels of overall societal cynicism.
"There are actually some countries where cynical individuals do not necessarily earn less than their less cynical compatriots," said Stavrova.
These countries are those with pervasively high societal cynicism scores, rare pro-social behaviour (e.g., charity donations) and widespread antisocial behaviour (as indicated by high homicide rates) – in other words, countries where cynicism might be justified or even somewhat functional.